Why JSX is Being Kicked Out of Orange County Airport


JSX — the airline formerly known as JetSuiteX — sent out a somewhat odd blast email last week. The airline said it was being told that after this year it couldn’t continue to fly out of John Wayne Airport in Orange County, but it’s far, far more complicated than that. I went digging to find out what was really going on.

In the email, the subject “We Need Your Help to Keep JSX Flying in Orange County Airport” made it sound like a plea for passengers to book tickets or they’d have to cancel money-losing flights. But that wasn’t what was going on. In what was written like a personal letter from CEO Alex Wilcox to travelers, it lays out its case:

This morning I had a very upsetting phone call with an Orange County California official. He told me that as of January 1, 2021, JSX is no longer welcome at Orange County Airport. Since 2018, JSX has been providing the people of Orange County with our unique style of service while contributing millions in economic activity to the region. 

I naturally assumed this was a slot issue. John Wayne has a passenger cap on operations thanks to the rich neighbors who don’t like airplane noise, and that has kept airlines out over the years. What I learned is that it’s not a slot issue, but don’t worry… it is most definitely a “rich neighbor” issue.

JSX Is Not Like Other Airlines

If you’ve flown JSX, you know it is a different kind of operation. For the technical geeks, JSX acts like a travel agency that “charters” aircraft from its subsidiary Delux Public Charter. People then buy tickets through JSX for those charters. Because of this arrangement, JSX can fly under FAA Part 380 which means it can do a whole lot of things differently. And since the aircraft operate with 30 seats or less, they can run as Part 135. The legal and regulatory details beyond that don’t really matter. Just know that this means JSX can do things regular airlines can’t.

For example, JSX doesn’t have to send people through standard TSA security screening. It can handle security on its own. It operates its airplanes from a fixed based operator (FBO) which is like a terminal for private jets. It’s a nice experience from the passenger perspective, but in Orange County, this has angered the locals. And that never ends well.

Newport Beach Gets Angry

When aircraft depart from Orange County in normal operations, they fly right over the very wealthy community of Newport Beach. That means the rich residents have a vested interest in the airport. And as is usually the case, those with a lot of money have the ability to make their opponents bend to their will.

If you’ve flown out of Orange County, you know that there is an odd takeoff procedure. You launch straight up and then once off airport property, the engines go back near idle and it feels like you’re falling. You aren’t, but it’s quite a sensation. This is all done simply to keep noise down. Engines at full thrust are a lot louder than those near idle, so this keeps it quieter for those sensitive ears down in Newport Beach. Any changes in traffic get those people all worked up, but thanks to the passenger cap, the operations remain fairly steady… until next year.

Starting on January 1, 2021, the airport’s passenger cap gets raised per the terms of the settlement that created this system. Instead of 10.8 million passenger per year, the airport can accommodate 11.8 million. So more traffic is coming, and that has to have residents on alert.

With JSX operating as a public charter, it actually gets around those caps entirely. In fact, it’s been allowed to operate from its current FBO with a limit of 95,070 passengers per year. Already facing an increase next year, local residents are undoubtedly looking for ways to strangle the airport’s traffic. It looks like they found one, and JSX loses.

When All Else Fails, Restrict the FBO

The FBOs on the airport all had their leases come up for renewal, and that presented an opportunity to cut JSX at the knees. In the new leases which go into effect on January 1 — and which were approved last night — FBOs are prohibited from servicing what are called “Regularly Scheduled Commercial Users.”

This is actually a defined term in the airport’s Commercial Airline Access Plan and Regulation, section 2.40.

Regularly Scheduled Commercial User means any person conducting aircraft operations at JWA for the purpose of carrying passengers, freight, or cargo where such operations: (i) are operated in support of, advertised, or otherwise made available to members of the public by any means for commercial air transportation purposes, and members of the public may travel or ship commercial Cargo on the flights; (ii) the flights are scheduled to occur, or are represented as occurring (or available) at specified times and days; and (iii) the person conducts, or proposes to operate, departures at JWA at a frequency greater than two (2) times per week during any consecutive three (3) week period.

By this definition, JSX is most definitely a Regularly Scheduled Commercial User, and that means that it can’t use an FBO any more. John Wayne spokesperson Deanne Thompson confirmed to me that, “JetSuiteX may operate from the Thomas F. Riley Terminal at John Wayne Airport, in the same manner as the other commercial and commuter carriers.” That appears to be the only option… but is it even an option?

Backed Into a Corner

JSX will say it can’t operate from the main terminal. It doesn’t have any of the slot allocations for next year, though it might be able to pick some up the way Spirit did recently. Still, it seems unlikely that it could get what it wants.

Even if it could get the slots, it’s not clear that JSX would do it. As it said in the letter it sent out:

JSX is happy to remain at our current location or to move to another suitable space at the Orange County Airport, including the main terminal, as long as we are able to continue providing our JSX customers with a safe, seamless, and secure “hop-on” style of jet service, arriving just 20 minutes before a departing flight. 

That means that it would need to be able to have passengers skirt TSA security and easily walk up to the airplane. That doesn’t seem possible. I reached out to JSX multiple times to get a comment on what would make an operation in the main terminal feasible, but all I got was this vague corporate-speak:

We hope to find a way to preserve JSX’s unique business model in Orange County. We’ll continue to work in good faith with the County to do so and we will explore all avenues to ensure our Orange County services are preserved.

Newport Beach Isn’t Done

It sounds like JSX may be out of luck here, and you’d think the people in Newport Beach would be celebrating. But no, they want more. Specifically, they want even more restrictions on FBOs:

  • Language that eliminates the ability of any lessee to construct and operate a General Aviation Facility (GAF)
  • A term that restricts the operational hours of the FBOs to match the hours of the commercial curfew at John Wayne Airport (JWA).
  • The requirement any future modifications to the terms pertaining to commercial use of an FBO, prohibiting a GAF, preserving the majority of the space for small general aviation, and restricting the FBOs’ operating hours to go before the Board of Supervisors for review and approval, after reasonable public notice.

This is going overboard since I don’t think the airport even has the right to restrict some of these things, especially changing the curfew. This is a fight that will likely never end, but unless JSX can figure out a way to operate from the main terminal, its days at John Wayne appear to be numbered.

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50 comments on “Why JSX is Being Kicked Out of Orange County Airport

  1. Loved this article thank you! I always enjoyed my experience on JSX though the rich residents seem to do everything they can to stop them.

    I remember years ago they wanted to start operations at Santa Monica airport which I was really excited about.

    Just after they announced that, SMO decided to cut their runway in half and tell JSX to go packing. They never ended up setting up show there.

  2. Does the new ruling mean that UPS and FedEx flights will no longer be allowed at SNA, or are those not affected because they have slots or use a terminal?

    Maybe the residents of Newport Beach will reconsider if it means that the caviar and wine they order online arrives at the gates to their mansions in 3 days instead of 2…. :-)

    1. Kilroy – This is only applied to the new leases for the FBOs and I don’t think UPS or FedEx would use the FBOs for servicing. Maybe I’m wrong on that, so I’m just guessing.

  3. Oh those poor little rich residents of Newport Bitch – is the noise from the airport hearting your sensitive ears?

    I’ve herd the same crap over HPN from certain vocal residents of Greenwich. Cry me a bay – you have the wealth to do so.

  4. Orange County…Santa Monica…Long Beach…LAX…if I was an airline I don’t know why I’d bother with flying to most of LA since so many airports kow-tow to their residents at the expense of their own operations…

      1. LAX has had to deal with nearby residents complaining. For a while I think they had a gate cap, but that’s ended.

        The “Imperial Hill” spotting location south of the airport is formally known as Jim Clutter Park. Clutter was an El Segundo city councilman who was behind limits on LAX’s growth.

      2. They have no curfew, but they do reverse operations between 2400-0600…all arrivals use runways 6/7 and departures use 24/25 only!

  5. The poverty around ONT and San Bernardino County make that airport even more tempting, with no curfew.

      1. David M,

        I think what was meant by that statement was the fact there would be far less resistance around ONT do to the residents not having deep pockets to fight the will of the airports wants as apposed to Newport Beach near SNA.

    1. This is such a stupid statement to make. Do you even know what the average household income is around here?

      There are plenty of people around here that would use JSX, Chino Hills, Claremont, Diamond Bar, Rancho Cucamonga, Eastvale, just a few cities where the average household income is over $100,000 and they didn’t get screwed in buying their home so they could afford to fly.

      1. I may have been a bit hyperbolic to try to make my point. Yes there are people with the means to travel near ONT. The China Airlines flight is a good example of a specific market suited to the demographics of the area. But ONT has generally struggled to sustain a large amount of profitable services, and the Inland Empire as a whole—ONT’s primary market—is not as well off as the coastal areas of LA.

        1. Much of ONT’s struggle was about LAWA strangling it in favor of LAX. The lack of advertising, amenities, and construction meant that most people simply went to LAX. Passenger traffic was flat until the turnover in 2016, and grew sharply after that until COVID. Amazing how well it can do when someone is trying to pump it up.

          In terms of drive time, a very large part of the LA Basin is often closer, going well down into Orange County, and getting into and out of ONT’s parking is far easier than LAX’s. Taking off from SNA means a layover somewhere for many flights, while ONT can go direct to the entire US, potentially saving travel time. Further awareness of that and expansion of direct flights could help boost the numbers quite a bit more, once things get back to normal.

  6. Having lived in Orange County, I believe your observations and conclusion are correct. However, in 2020 alone, KSNA has received almost $50 million in federal grants. I believe at least the part about no more GAF’s violates the terms of the federal grants.

  7. These changes are not ones which happened overnight, they have been discussed since 2019. During an open meeting on May 5, 2019 comments were welcomed to discuss the GAIP changes which included the language which would prevent JSX from operating at the FBO.


    34 spoke about the issue and the alternatives on the table. It should have been at this point JSX was engaged and stating their position with their Government Relations team. Knowing about changes like this as they take place and working with the communities could have prevented this 11th hour push JSX is doing right now.

  8. I believe that the residents around LAX complained and got their way about moving the north runway. CF, was that ever settled?

    1. Angry Bob – Yeah, they agreed not to move the runway further north. I believe they made some other airfield changes to improve safety on that side and then they just gave up.

      1. They agreed to not move the runway further north unless they were compelled to move it by a federal agency for safety reasons in exchange LAWA got the gate cap lifted. I am pretty certain there will be a safety issue that requires a runway move in the future..
        Congratulations Westchester you won a nothing burger.

  9. In several placed I’ve lived, I’ve seen this sort of effort: buy undervalued property near an airport, get the airport closed, and see the property value skyrocket. I first saw this in North Atlanta (PDK). The surrounding real estate would be very valuable (ITP, adjacent to Buckhead), but the airport drives down the values. The airport has been operating since WWII (and operating jets for most of that time), so today, none of the homeowners bought their property without knowing about the airport. Yet, they still act as if PDK is the newcomer ruining their quiet life, though in reality, they’re trying to get a large spike in property values). SNA is even older than PDK. I knew my current house was near a state highway (though I didn’t know how frequently trucks jake-brake on that stretch), so I’m not going to complain about the traffic noise. If someone buys a house knowing it’s near an airport, I don’t see how he has any moral right to complain about the noise either.

    1. John,

      Exactly, you have to do your due diligence, and you have no right to complain about most businesses/properties that were present when you moved in.

      Even if you’re a newcomer to an area, it’s not hard to swing by a place at a few different times of day and to check online maps for other properties in the area with the potential to impact your quality of life (highways, airports, outdoor shooting ranges, landfills, industrial parks, quarries, etc etc). Online crime maps are helpful, but in my experience it’s well worth the effort to swing by the local PD in person and get the opinion of the duty sergeant and the records clerk while you ask for the “rap sheet” with all the calls to a given address; if people who work for the police (whether as officers or as civilians) say that they wouldn’t want to live in an area because of X reason [crime, noise, etc], that’s a HUGE red flag. I’ve done all of the above when I’m investigating a home I’m considering renting, especially one in an area I know nothing about.

      As a final aside, rural areas are starting to have a similar problem, where city people move out to rural areas for the “peace and quiet” of the country, only to complain about the lack of zoning, the neighbor occasionally (safely) shooting at soda cans placed at the base of a hillside, or the smell from the hog or dairy farm 1/4 mile away. Some towns have even started sending “scratch and sniff” cards to potential new residents that alert them to what farm country (read: cow manure) smells like.

    2. If you actually fly, living near an airport is a good thing. I like the fact that I can leave my house 50 minutes before my flight and still get on with ease at SJC.

      1. That annoys me so much… All the non tourism growth out around tower road.. the whole reason DIA was built there was to get the heck away from everyone. Anyone In those developments should have it written into the deeds they have no rights to complain about airport operations.

        1. I have a friend who used to live in that area and…it was written into the deeds. He moved because the location wasn’t particularly convenience, but he apparently made a substantial five-figure profit after owning the house for ~17 months.

          1. That is a Denver thing, not necessarily a DIA-driven price increase. I am stunned at how property values have skyrocketed in the last decade all over town

  10. Ah, nostalgia.

    I bought my first travel agency in Irvine in 1987. Was very active in what was then the Newport Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce. Two issues were of PRIMARY concern: SNA noise and SNA noise!

    At one point I was fortunate enough to house-sit for a client at their “villa” on Galaxy Drive in Back Bay. The number one topic of conversation at the nightly (!!) cocktail marathons? SNA noise!

    The more things change…

  11. I live close to the usual landing pattern for SJC and it’s not a big deal. We do get takeoffs when the operations are reversed (usually during rainy days). They do have a curfew from 11 PM – 6:30 AM every night, but there wouldn’t be too many flights that go off at those times anyway. Besides, most planes that are in the sky these days are fairly quiet. The only thing I really notice is when a DC-10 comes in and that’s a rarity now a days.

    Those people who complain too much about airport noise should be told to take a long walk off a short pier.

  12. Cranky, the special takeoff procedures at SNA have been gone for years. The current generation of jets are quiet enough not to set off the noise sensors – we no longer have a procedure specific to SNA.

    I also have to agree with the airport in this case. JSX acts like an air carrier, not a charter operation. It’s only fair they are subject to the same rules.

    1. So there’s an “acts like” exception to Part 380 and Part 135 now? I’m sure the FAA will be very interested in hearing all about that. Gosh, since that’s the case, I wonder what all the hubbub is about!

      1. Not sure if you’re actually agreeing with me or disagreeing. But JSX clearly meets the what the FAA intends to regulate as an Air Carrier, so yes, I’m sure the FAA would be interested. In my view, JSX is trying to find loopholes to avoid the regulations that should be applied to them.

        1. JSX operates fully within the laws as written by the FAA. There’s nothing shady about the 830 exemption. The FAA works with JSX on a regular basis like any other operator so don’t expect interference from the FAA. Their security has been tested routinely by the TSA and has been found to be better than at main terminals. It’s some cool technology to say the least.

    2. Agree. They need to pickup and move their operation to Long Beach. Nobody is going to fly JSX at SNA if they have to go thru the main terminal.

    3. Really? I admit I haven’t done the 7AM takeoff from SNA this year, but I remember that being a thing at least in 2019. Maybe its changed. . .

      1. I can’t speak to every airline, but mine no longer has any special procedures unique to SNA. We still had them when I was flying the 757 there in 2013, but by the time I was a 737 captain in 2017, they were gone. It’s just a normal takeoff now (technically I think we do an NADP1 noise abatement takeoff, but we do that at a number of airports domestically (including SFO) and virtually every airport internationally).

  13. And people thought an airport existed to serve aircraft arrivals and departures. No, it exists for lawyers to leverage division and give meaning to people who buy homes where they choose to be annoyed.

    JSX, move to Texas with Joe Rogan and call it a day.

    1. Sorry for the double post.

      At the risk of asking the world’s stupidest question, why can’t the planes just take off over the Pacific and then 180 after a couple of minutes?

      1. Bill from DC (aka Cranky Gazelle?) ,

        It’s not a stupid question at all. In fact thanks to a mansion tour I saw recently on YouTube, I learned a few things about Newport Beach’s geography that I never knew before including just how much the city lies on the bay of the same name & the exclusive neighborhoods designed within the inlets.

        That’s why flying over the ocean may not work as well there as apposed to LGB & LAX where it’s more or less required.

        1. No, it was a stupid question. After reading your reply, I looked at a map. Newport Beach (and Costa Mesa) are between SNA and the ocean. I guess that clears things up somewhat.

          But then wouldn’t the inverse hold true? Why not take off inland (basically NE heading looking at the positioning of the runway). Irvine and Santa Ana are nice enough but we aren’t taking Newport Beach levels of wealth. Plus much of that area is commercial rather than residential.

          1. I’m no pilot, but typically winds blow from the ocean inland. Hence you take off into the wind. I’ve flown out of that airport 20-30 times and I don’t remember doing the reverse. Which is ironic since we do have Santa Ana winds (zero pun) that blow the opposite way. The remote parking lot is actually pretty cool as it is on the runway approach.

            1. I’ve both taken off and landed the “wrong way” at SNA. It’s pretty uncommon, but it does happen with the Santa Ana winds. But there’s also a runway slope issue that decreases the performance to the NE, if I remember correctly.

  14. Honestly, I feel like these people won’t be satisfied until they shut the airport down. Maybe they should and see how much they love driving to LAX and ONT to fly.

    1. Actually, the residents of Newport Beach did try to close (or at least lower the passenger volume of) SNA. However, the residents of Orange County felt a (not so) Great Park would be better usage of the El Toro MCAS instead of an International Airport.

      1. If I recall correctly, when El Toro was put to a vote, there was quite a bit of opposition from NIMBYs in the area. A park seemed like a pretty good idea at the time although it has never come close to reaching its advertised potential, plus there turned out to be quite a bit of corruption associated with it—who would have thought?

        Even though it would have meant a longer drive (at the time, I lived closer to SNA), I voted for it because of the existing infrastructure and the likelihood that it would have helped alleviate the congestion at LAX.

  15. I am curious if this will be applied to another much smaller but similar operator, Set Jet, that also operates from the same FBO at SNA as JSX. They operate SNA-Scottsdale 4 times per week on a CRJ-200, but customers must buy a membership before they can see the exact schedule/book the flights. If they can get around this rule with the membership requirement, perhaps in theory JSX could do so with an “OC Flyers Club” so to speak.

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